Work has been completed on one of the projects state officials hope will improve water quality in Lake Carmi, which has been plagued by blue-green algae, a bacteria that can release toxins.
Extensive work was done to clean up a pond on the west side of Lake Carmi in the town of Franklin. The man-made pond was expanded by the farm’s owner for aesthetic purposes, but water quality specialists were concerned about high levels of phosphorus in the pond. Phosphorus feeds the algae blooms in the lake.
“It never was a manure storage pit, however testing showed that it had quite a high level of soluble phosphorus in it. We determined that a lot of that came from past historic practices that had allowed manure to drain, or drainage from that manure, to get into that pond and get into the sludge that was in the bottom of the pond,” explained John Roberts, small farm water quality specialist for the Agency of Agriculture. “And so we determined that it would be a good idea to clean it out, clean out the banks above it.”
The work included replacing an overflow culvert, water was drained from the pond and sprayed on nearby fields and sludge was removed.
“When we first came here and the water was out, all of that clay was black, jet black. And that was the sludge that we wanted to move, we couldn’t be sure that that’s where the phosphorus was because we weren’t able to test the sludge until we removed the water,” Roberts said. “We have taken samples and we will get an answer. We removed the water, removed the sludge and put it on this field and then it was all tilled in. The bank has been mulched and seeded.”
“We basically, recycled a potential source of phosphorus and we are hopeful and optimistic that it won’t be a problem in the future,” Roberts said.
The clean-up work was funded by the state’s Clean Water Fund. This one project won’t solve the problems in the Lake Carmi Watershed, but Roberts calls it a good start.
“I think we’ve taken really good steps and the farmer has taken really good steps to mitigate the problem that was here,” he said.
It took two years of negotiation for the project to get underway. “The farmer was to a degree skeptical of what we wanted to do. We were going to spend a fair bit of money and he’s a taxpayer and he wondered whether that was worthwhile,” Roberts said. “The farmer hadn’t done anything wrong so we didn’t have an enforcement capability. If we’d had an enforcement capability we could have dictated things a little more. But we had to have his cooperation.”
This pond clean up project was on Peter Kittell’s small farm. The old manure stacks were left over from the days he used to milk 50 cows, which he sold in 2014.
"I milked for 37 years and I thought that was enough. I’m semi-retired. I do the crops and we do maple syrup,” Kittell said.
It did take time to convince Kuh-tell to agree to the project. He says problems with water quality can't be blamed entirely on runoff from farms. “I don’t believe the farms are really causing all the problems. I think it’s a whole bunch of things combined that is the problem,” he said.
There has been a lot of pressure on the Agency of Agriculture and the Agency of Natural Resources to do something to improve the water quality in Lake Carmi, which was closed for weeks this fall due to algae blooms.
Laura DiPietro, deputy director of the division of Ag Resource Management, says the agency has received a significant amount of resources which has been helpful in getting more staff in the field. “I’ve seen the staff engage at a really high level, and the farmers have always been there and always been engaged. I think too from where we sit there is a lot of pressure from farmers, on the Agency of Ag, and what we’re doing and that pressure doesn’t come from everyone, it comes from a select group of folks. But it’s a healthy pressure,” she said. “I really don’t see any slack in any regard in what the farmers are stepping up and doing, have been doing for years.”
DiPietro says this is one of many projects planned for the Lake Carmi watershed. “Every farm that’s in the watershed still operating as a dairy is engaged with USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service or Agency of Ag, or both in projects, a lot of the time contracts take several years to get implement. But definitely if you look around the lake there aren’t that many farms, but there are certainly those who are engaged and you’ll see at least a project a year in the next couple of years in the works,” she said.
Farmer Peter Kittell says most farmers are doing what they can to comply with new regulations on phosphorus, but wants people to realize there's no instant solution.
“It’s going to take time to clean up everything. It’s not just the farms, every body’s got to do their part, including campers and roads and things like that,” he said.
John Roberts, the Agency of Agriculture water specialist, says it’s only been less than a year since the state’s new required agriculture practices went into effect, and the farmers he works with are interested in doing their part to reduce the phosphorus going into the watershed, but he says when it comes to seeing proof that those efforts are working, it will take patience, and time.